Exclusive: Why Mia Hamm Wants Girls to Play Sports

Playing sports while you’re growing up can change your life. If anyone knows that, it’s Mia Hamm, and that’s why she has teamed up with Gatorade to spread that message. But, by age 17, girls quit sports at one and a half times the rate of their male peers, losing the skills and long-term perks that come with the game. Gatorade launched the Sisters in Sweat campaign to tackle that troubling statistic, and are releasing the new “Every Day Is Your Day” film today.

So why do girls quit sports? According to a Gatorade/Refinery29 study, 46% didn’t see a future for themselves in the sport, 39% to prioritize academics or other extracurricular activities, 32% thought they were not good enough and 21% felt they were missing out on their social life. Hamm and United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) rising star Mallory Pugh are working with Gatorade to encourage girls to stay in the game, just before Pugh and her team fight to keep their place as world champions. It’ll also be the 20th anniversary of the USWNT’s win that changed women’s soccer in the U.S. forever. Hamm tells us all about it.

Why were you drawn to the Sisters in Sweat campaign?

I know how much sports have impacted my life and not just soccer—I grew up playing every sport when I was younger. A lot of people don’t understand or realize that by age of 17 female athletes are 1.5 times more likely to drop out of sports than boys. Everything I’ve learned through sports—from how to build a team, self-esteem, team work, confidence, time management, and there are so many intangibles you are constantly immersed in when playing a sport—these young girls are missing out on. This campaign and the Sisters in Sweat messaging is so important to me because I’ve lived it. I see the value that it’s had in my life, and now as a mom of twin 12-year-old girls who are involved in sports, I see the confidence it brings to their lives.

Why do you think that girls drop out of sports more than boys?

This is a discussion that could go on for days. I am sure peer pressure is one and time management is another. I’m sure the way youth club sports are organized is it’s more results oriented rather than developmental sometimes. The demands on kids in school is much greater than I think when we were in school. It’s not just to be an athlete, but to be well-rounded—your high school resume needs to have much more diversity than it used to.

What would you tell a young girl who is considering dropping out of sports?

First I would ask her why—what is the motivation or the feeling she is having, and help her understand that regardless of the reason, all of the wonderful things you can experience and learn through sports. A lot of times people say I don’t have time, but playing sports enables you to learn how to goal set, manage time, be responsible, organize yourself, and learn how you impact your team. When I played, different sports brought out different characteristics of myself. Maybe I was more of the goal scorer in soccer, but in basketball I didn’t have a great jump shot, so I was the distributor. I had to understand how do I put other people in better situations to be successful. One thing is dealing with adversity. A lot of the time with kids these days, and it more so comes from their parents, that because we have so many more options, as soon as something gets difficult, the parents say we’re moving you to something else. ‘Oh you’re not starting, let’s move you to a club where you can start.’ When I was growing up, my reaction was what do I have to do to get to the starting lineup. You learn to understand that it takes grit and perseverance, and that life is hard.

What was filming “Every Day Is Your Day” with Gatorade like?

We filmed it at the Rose Bowl. It starts off with me talking to this young player, and how I inspired a generation, and now Mallory Pugh and her teammates are doing the same thing for the next generation. It taps into the iconic Dr. Seuss poem, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” but it changed the words and made them more in line with soccer and what the next generation of kids would be doing and inspired by.

What does the World Cup mean to you?

As someone that played in it, it’s the pinnacle of your sport. The best players and best teams from all over the world are coming together, all eyes are on you, and it brings out the best in hopefully all of us. I’m so excited for Mallory and her teammates to defend the World Cup championship. I get to witness it as a fan with my family. I was able to take my daughters in 2015 to a match and to see how engaged they were and how they bought into being a fan of the US and now we can do that again in France. I’m so excited to share that experience with them.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your involvement with the US Soccer team?

One is being a part of a team and learning from my incredible teammates—I see their influence every single day. Secondly is seeing how the sport continues to grow and knowing you were able to grow that in some way.

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